Interviews

Interview Series - Alastair Henderson

#10QuestionswithMaxwell Interview Series: Alastair Henderson, Herbert Smith Freehills

In this #10QuestionsWithMaxwell interview, we feature Alastair Henderson, Managing Partner, Southeast Asia at Herbert Smith Freehills. He is also a Mentor for the Maxwell Mentorship Programme (Technology in Alternative Dispute Resolution).

Alastair Henderson heads Herbert Smith Freehills’ arbitration practice in Southeast Asia, having been based in the region since 1999.  He has an ‘exceptional’ reputation as a member of Singapore’s international arbitration ‘Hall of Fame’ (Legal 500), and is a “Standout established name … whose “depth of knowledge in the Asian market” is a key strength” (Who’s Who Legal).   

Alastair is experienced in many sectors and industries, with particular expertise in power, energy and natural resources; construction, engineering and infrastructure; shareholder and joint venture disputes; and a wide range other commercial matters.    

He also ‘draws praise as “a top-notch and efficient arbitrator” and has been appointed to numerous tribunals as sole arbitrator, co-arbitrator and presiding arbitrator, in disputes under common and civil laws. 

In this interview, he shared the most memorable dispute he had been a part of, what he found most challenging being an arbitrator, a profession he would be in if he weren’t in his current profession, and more.

Read his full interview below:

Q: How did you first get involved in arbitration work? 

A: There wasn’t a plan – I was a litigation associate but was assigned a new arbitration when others were busy.   It was an ICC case involving a water treatment plant in Africa, with a mix of construction issues and foreign law, and counsel and the tribunal spread across Europe.  It was a wonderful introduction to international arbitration and I was quickly hooked. 

Q: Without sacrificing confidentiality, share with us the most memorable dispute you have been a part of.  

A: There are so many I could mention.  But I will choose a major hydro-electric construction dispute in Laos, where after days of taking evidence we spent the evenings drinking local beer under impossibly starry skies at the client’s construction camp deep in the jungle. 

Q: Even with your extensive experience in arbitration practice, what do you find most challenging being an arbitrator? 

A: Encouraging parties to focus quickly on key issues, rather than trying to fight every single point no matter how important or not it might be. 

Q: What do you think are the key qualities and skills an arbitrator should have? 

A: An arbitrator who is interested and well-prepared will understand the issues from an early stage, and make decisions that are better suited to the particular case.  No one benefits from lazy arbitrators with standard procedural orders, who expect to use the hearing to begin to learn about the issues. 

Q: If you could change one thing about the arbitral system, what would it be? 

A: I would integrate arbitration more effectively with alternative forms of dispute resolution.  Mediation, early neutral evaluation, even preliminary guidance from the Tribunal, can offer an off-ramp from the arbitration highway, and institutions and arbitrators should look for ways to encourage or even participate in early-solution alternatives without endangering their neutrality in the proceedings.

Q: In your experience, how important are mentoring and networking for the development of the field? 

A: Mentoring and networking certainly have value in terms of gaining contacts and developing perspectives.  They’re also important for aspiring arbitrators to build their profile.  I’m less sure how important they are in terms of winning employment for young lawyers.

Q: You are a Mentor on our Maxwell Mentorship Programme, what is one piece of invaluable advice you would give to our group of Mentees or other younger legal practitioners in entering the alternative dispute resolution field? 

A: Be curious, open-minded and creative.  Arbitration risks becoming litigation by another name, too tied down in unimaginative procedures.  Challenge that, and think of better ways to do things – flexibility and innovation are (or should be) key attractions for our field. 

Q: If you weren’t in your current profession, what profession would you be in?

A: I went to university to read zoology, with a vision be the warden of a remote nature reserve – perhaps a lonely island? – focused on research and conservation.  I switched to law after my first year (should I say ‘sold out’?).  I’ve no regrets, but I look back and wonder about that other life in heavy gumboots and thick sweaters …

Q: How do you like to enjoy your free time?

A: With my family.  In the end, my wife and daughters are more important to me than anything. 

Q: Lastly, describe Maxwell Chambers with 3 words. 

A: Innovative.  Ambitious.  International. 

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